MEXICO — Mexico’s Supreme Court on Thursday overturned part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “jail, no bail” policy.
The court voted against mandatory pretrial detention for those accused of fraud, smuggling or tax evasion. Because trials often last for years in Mexico, judges argued that being held in jail during the trial was tantamount to being sentenced before being convicted.
Instead, prosecutors should convince judges there are valid reasons not to release people on their own recognizance – for example, arguing that they may pose a flight risk. Judges could vote next week on whether the possibility of provisional release can be justified for other crimes.
In 2019, López Obrador imposed mandatory pretrial detention for a long list of crimes, and he sees it as part of his crackdown on white-collar criminals, like those accused of tax evasion. Mexico does not have cash bail, but before López Obrador changed the rules, judges could release suspects and ask them to wear monitors, show up in court or agree not to travel.
The president has long spoken out against corrupt judges and court decisions he dislikes, and Thursday’s Supreme Court vote was likely to spark more vocal attacks from the president.
Even before the decision, López Obrador criticized the court for Thursday’s highly anticipated vote.
“How can judges, magistrates and judges defend white collar criminals? How come money triumphs over justice? López Obrador said ahead of the decision. “What tremendous shamelessness!
The president has not been shy about accusing lower court judges of releasing drugs and other suspects on procedural or technical points he clearly disagrees with. Underpaid and often threatened, Mexican prosecutors often fail to present solid cases or make intentional or unintentional mistakes.
“They release them because the prosecution case was badly written, or for any other excuse, any other pretext,” the president said, “because they’ve become very, very, very obsessed with the intricacies of the law”.
López Obrador has fought the courts, often attacking their legitimacy and pointing the finger at certain judges because the courts have often blocked some of the president’s key initiatives.
Observers say the courts acted because López Obrador often pushed through laws that openly contradict the country’s constitution or international treaties.
Previously, the president has focused most of his anger on the lower courts. During a press briefing with López Obrador on Thursday, Ricardo Mejia, Mexico’s assistant secretary for public security, said the administration would recommend bringing criminal charges against a judge who ordered the release of a chief. alleged drug gang.
But much of the president’s anger on Thursday was directed at the Supreme Court, which is set to hear an appeal from a group that says government money and assets should no longer be used to erect buildings. Christmas cribs, a must in Mexico.
The appeal says government involvement in the display of Nativity scenes violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
The president angrily dismissed that, although the court has yet to rule on the matter.
” It’s an example. Why should they go against the traditions, the customs of the people? Lopez Obrador said.
López Obrador has expanded the list of charges that require a suspect to be detained pending trial to 16, including some non-violent crimes that can carry sentences of just a few months – far less than the time that most people spend waiting for their trial.
Only about two in 10 people charged with a crime in Mexico are convicted. This means that of the approximately 92,000 suspects held awaiting trial – often in the same cells as hardened criminals – around 75,000 will not be sentenced although they may spend years locked up in the overcrowded and dangerous prisons. from Mexico.
Trials in Mexico can last surprisingly long. Two men were recently released with ankle monitors after spending 17 years in prison while on trial for murder.
Being incarcerated in Mexican prisons, which are overcrowded, underfunded and controlled by gangs, can be hell for those on remand, who often enter without knowledge of the prison or ties to the gangs.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention states that “mandatory pretrial detention violates international human rights standards.”